“When he first said my diagnosis, I couldn’t believe it. There must be another PTSD than post-traumatic stress disorder, I thought. I have only heard of war veterans who have served on the front lines and seen the horrors of battle being diagnosed with PTSD. I am a Beverly Hills housewife, not a soldier. What’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? I can’t have PTSD. Well, I was wrong. Housewives can get PTSD, too, and yours, truly did.”
― Taylor Armstrong, Hiding from Reality: My Story of Love, Loss, and Finding the Courage Within
What’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
So you’re wondering what’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Let’s imagine for a moment.
Imagine being in a state of perpetual alert and always feeling as if danger could crop up at any moment.
Imagine you can’t sleep, feel prickly and snap at people for no reason.
Imagine…startling easily at even the slightest thing, your body always tensed up, your mind always alert…
These are a few of the symptoms people develop when they have a condition called PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Sometimes, not always, a condition called Acute Stress Disorder precedes PTSD.
Both these disorders are types of anxiety disorders and are diagnosed at separate points in time after a traumatic experience.
According to Stephanie S. Covington, “Trauma is any stressor that occurs in a sudden and forceful way and is experienced as overwhelming.”
Acute Stress Disorder is diagnosed within one month following a traumatic event.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is diagnosed after one month of symptoms displaying following a traumatic event.
This article, as per the title, will focus on what’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms?
Besides experiencing a traumatic event, there are also specific symptoms that must be displayed in order for someone to diagnose your condition as PTSD.
It is not a given that these symptoms will develop exactly a month after a traumatic event.
Symptoms can reveal themselves years later as well!
These symptoms are subdivided into four different clusters (a cluster is just a fancy term for a category or bundle).
-> You constantly have painful memories or frequent nightmares of the terrible event.
-> Reminders of the event causes your body to react physically, such as an increased heartbeat or sweating.
-> Reminders will also cause you strong feelings of distress and angst.
-> You feel as if the event is taking place all over again. This is often referred to as flashbacks.
-> You consciously avoid thoughts, feelings, or talking about the specific event.
-> You also deliberately avoid any places or individuals that remind you of the event.
-> You constantly keep yourself busy to avoid having to think about the event. This can lead to exhaustion.
-> You may have memory loss pertaining to certain parts of the traumatic event.
-> You struggle to sleep.
-> You feel irritated and have anger outbursts for no reason.
-> You find it hard to concentrate.
-> You’re always on guard and never feel safe.
-> You startle easily.
Negative thought patterns and behavior
-> You may display symptoms of depression.
-> You feel distant from others and yourself.
-> You struggle to feel joy, gratitude, or affection.
-> You lose enthusiasm for a lot of things you formerly enjoyed.
With all these symptoms your body will constantly be in fight-or-flight mode. This is not healthy for you – both psychologically and physically.
Next, let’s review your body’s fight-or-flight response.
What is fight-or-flight response?
Walter Bradford Cannon, an American physiologist, professor and former chairperson of the Department of Physiology at Harvard Medical School, first coined this term in the early 1900s.
He published his book, Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear, and Rage: An Account of Recent Researches into the Function of Emotional Excitement, in 1915.
In it, he described this term as an animal’s response to threats or danger.
The fight-or-flight response helps the animal prepare for fleeing or fighting in times of expected threat.
It has since been established that these type of responses are accurate for humans too.
Your brain will perceive a threatening situation and cause your nervous system to release a bunch of cortisone and adrenaline hormones.
These will cause you to experience many bodily reactions as your body prepares for either fleeing or attacking.
Here are just a few reactions you may encounter:
- Dilation of pupils
- Accelerated heartbeat
- Accelerated breathing
- Shaking or shivering
- Tunnel vision
- Your bladder may relax, causing you to…you know…
To top everything off, the body is truly an amazing vessel.
The fight-or-flight response causes the body to activate physiological changes too.
These give you increased strength and speed!
You need this whether you choose to fight or run away.
What’s more, the blood clotting function speeds up to help avoid excessive blood loss, should you sustain any injuries. Amazing!
What’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Diagnosis Criteria?
To receive a diagnosis for PTSD, you must display a certain number of symptoms from each cluster.
- At least one intrusion symptom
- At least one symptom of avoidance
- At least two symptoms of hyperarousal
- At least two mood symptoms
Your doctor will also ask you a series of questions, which will also help to rule out the possibility that something else might cause your symptoms such as substance abuse.
Diagnosis will also depend on how long you have displayed the symptoms and how you are coping with the situation.
If you suspect you or a loved one might suffer from PTSD, please get a professional diagnosis from your GP or mental health practitioner as soon as possible.
What’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatments and is there a cure?
There is, unfortunately, no cure for PTSD, however, there are many treatment options available that will help you cope with the symptoms and teach you to effectively manage them to a point where you can function normally.
AnxietyPanda prefers and recommends Cognitive Behavioral therapies above medication, however it has been proven that receiving a combination of these treatments are most effective to combat the symptoms of PTSD.
At the end of the day, the treatment method/s will depend on your specific individual needs.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This is a popular form of treatment for PTSD and you can receive it as one-on-one therapy, group therapy or even online therapy.
It is sometimes referred to as Talking Therapy and consists of two parts:
-> Cognitive Psychology – You talk with your therapist and they challenge and help modify any distorted thought patterns that have arisen due to the traumatic experience. Your therapist might also choose to educate you about the condition and teach you coping mechanisms for times of emergency.
-> Behavioral Therapy – You will gradually get exposed to the memories of the traumatic event until you are no longer distressed by them. Doing this in an environment where you feel safe and secure is key, and what better place than with your therapist.
Usually, between 8 and 12 CBT sessions are needed to effectively deal with PTSD. The sessions usually last between 60 and 90 minutes each.
The number of sessions will depend on each individual’s needs.
If you find it hard to talk about your experience, there is another form of cognitive treatment that you can consider.
It is called Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
During such a session you will be asked to continually focus and think about the trauma-related thoughts and emotions while you watch the therapist’s fingers, or some other object they’re holding, move around.
You’re not talking, you’re merely focusing on the traumatic memories, thoughts, and feelings while watching the object move.
The fact that you’re paying attention to both these things will help you to process the traumatic event by introducing a connection between the trauma and more positive thinking.
Exercise and Mindfulness
Exercise in the form of resistance training or walking has proven to be remarkably effective for alleviating the symptoms of PTSD.
Doctors usually suggest these forms of exercise together with the other treatment options.
Not only will exercise bring relief to your PTSD symptoms, but it will also further help to relieve and improve other co-occurring conditions such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine will also do wonders at relieving your PTSD symptoms.
By practicing mindfulness, you will learn to pay attention to when symptoms emerge and learn to remain in the present moment.
This is achieved by applying breathing or mind-clearing techniques.
Mindfulness will likewise help with your decision-making skills, your short-term memory, and will allow you to respond rather than react to situations.
Using binaural beats have also proven extremely effective against combating the symptoms of PTSD.
Binaural beats work best when listened to with headphones.
Here’s a PTSD binaural treatment YouTube video. Try it! Let us know if it works for you!
Other self-help strategies you may want to try include learning techniques for breathing, relaxation, and stress management.
Why not try some Yoga combined with meditation as an all-encompassing self-help strategy?
Yoga helps you by:
-> teaching you breathing techniques that are synchronized with the movements of your body
-> your body will release endorphins
-> calming any angst and stress responses
-> building self-esteem as your body’s health increases
Meditation helps you by:
-> helping you achieve inner calmness
-> reducing stress hormones
-> helping to reduce the need for medications
You may not necessarily need medication for your PTSD, but on the slightest chance that you do, let’s take a look at what medications are usually prescribed for PTSD.
The most effective medication for PTSD is Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs.
These are your antidepressants such as Citalopram and Sertraline.
It is usually recommended taking the medication for a period of 6-12 months.
After this period, you can gradually wean yourself off the tablets.
Do this with the help of your doctor and be sure to communicate any side-effects or issues with them.
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“Always remember, if you have been diagnosed with PTSD, it is not a sign of weakness; rather, it is proof of your strength, because you have survived!”
― Michel Templet